Tag Archive | "Lardarius Webb"

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Five questions pondering Flacco, Webb, Monroe, Ravens guards

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or should the Cam Newton contract put all discussion to rest about the deal Joe Flacco received two years ago? To some degree, criticism we heard about Flacco’s contract is now being thrown Newton’s way as he received an extension that pays him an average yearly salary of $20.8 million. We spend so much time ranking quarterbacks and determining which ones are “elite” when it really comes down to a very simple question for NFL teams. Can your quarterback win you a Super Bowl with a reasonable supporting cast around him or not? If the answer is yes, you pay him — plain and simple. Of course, determining the line of demarcation is the challenge as Miami recently paying Ryan Tannehill was an example of that. In terms of average annual salary, does Newton deserve to be the fourth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL? No, but it was his turn in line and Carolina has enough reason to think he can eventually lead the Panthers to the promised land. That’s all that matters.

2. Is it just me or does the Ravens’ current guard situation remind you of the 2011 season? Most assume Baltimore will ultimately re-sign Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda while fourth-year left guard Kelechi Osemele will likely depart via free agency after this season, but I do wonder if that would be the best path for the Ravens. Yanda is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the best guard in the NFL, but he’ll also be 31 in September. If his demands are through the roof, can you justify giving lucrative money to a player who will be approaching his mid-30s during the life of the contract? Meanwhile, Osemele turns just 26 later this month is likely to get even better over the next couple years. The situation isn’t identical, but it reminds me of 2011 when Ben Grubbs and Yanda were both scheduled to become free agents. Many thought the Ravens should sign Grubbs, but Yanda received an affordable extension that summer and the 2007 first-round pick departed the following winter. I’ll still assume that the Ravens keep Yanda, but it would be tough allowing a much younger player to depart.

3. Is it just me or should Lardarius Webb and Eugene Monroe be attending voluntary organized team activities after injury-plagued campaigns last season? Any veteran player has the right to skip voluntary spring practices, but I can’t help but think the Ravens aren’t thrilled to see Webb and Monroe missing OTA workouts — at least the ones that have been open to media thus far. Counting the playoffs, injuries forced Monroe to miss seven starts last season and the left tackle’s contract is structured in a way that the Ravens could release him next offseason if they’re not thrilled with his performance, as was the case last year. Meanwhile, Webb may have restructured his current contract this offseason, but Baltimore could easily cut the veteran cornerback next winter if his play doesn’t improve substantially from 2014. It’s one thing for established veterans to skip spring workouts, but those with question marks from the previous year are taking a chance to further fall out of good graces when they’re not around in the spring.

4. Is it just me or could a healthy Brent Urban be a difference-maker for a revamped defensive line? Much attention has been paid to the interior part of the line following the trade of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the 5-technique defensive end spot is a position of interest as veteran Chris Canty was cut and re-signed at a cheaper rate earlier this year. Canty has been mostly solid in his two years with Baltimore, but he will also be 33 in November and contemplated retirement this past winter. Urban has been quite active during spring workouts and appears fully recovered from last summer’s knee injury. Not only could he challenge Canty for his starting spot, but the 6-foot-7 University of Virginia product could be an intriguing option to replace Pernell McPhee as an interior pass rusher on third down. Urban will need to prove himself this summer, but it was no secret that the 2014 fourth-round pick was going to be a big part of the rotation as a rookie. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a key contributor for the Ravens’ front this season.

5. Is it just me or are the Ravens getting more than enough love this offseason? I’ve made no secret about how impressed I was with general manager Ozzie Newsome’s work in the 2015 draft and the savvy signing of slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month, but I was surprised to see Sports Illustrated’s Peter King list the Ravens first in his preseason power rankings. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans would be incensed if Pittsburgh were ranked No. 1 after losing a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, an impact pass rusher, and a good offensive coordinator. Make no mistake, I expect the Ravens to be a playoff team in 2015 and they could very well be poised to make a championship run if wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams are ready to make meaningful contributions as rookies. Everything the Ravens have done looks strong on paper, but that doesn’t always mean it comes to fruition on the field as quickly as you’d like, especially when relying on unproven players. For the fans who like to play the disrespect card in terms of how the national media views their team, King is taking a leap of faith to put Baltimore at the top of the list.

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Even after strong draft, Ravens remain vulnerable at cornerback

Posted on 05 May 2015 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens receive much-deserved praise for addressing an extensive list of needs and wants in this year’s draft, one clear truth remained at the end of an otherwise-successful weekend.

The secondary remains vulnerable after the Ravens finished 23rd in pass defense during the 2014 season. To be clear, this isn’t meant to be a biting criticism as detractors pointing to the failures of the Ravens defense in the divisional playoff loss to New England last January are conveniently failing to mention that Baltimore needed to replace starting wide receiver Torrey Smith and starting tight end Owen Daniels before worrying about a No. 3 cornerback or help at safety, a position with few immediate solutions in this year’s draft.

Yes, the defense deserved more blame than the offense in that 35-31 defeat to the Patriots, but the Ravens weren’t going to replace two individuals responsible for 32 percent of Joe Flacco’s 2014 passing yards on hopes and dreams alone, which is why they selected Brehad Perriman and Maxx Williams with their first two picks.

Of the nine selections made by general manager Ozzie Newsome, however, fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker has raised the most eyebrows as many projected the Texas Southern product to be a late-round selection or even a priority free agent. The Ravens really like the 6-foot-2 corner’s upside and worked him out privately during the pre-draft process, but it’s fair to wonder if it was a reach to ensure they’d come away with at least one cornerback with room for grwoth. At the very least, it would be quite ambitious to assume Walker will be ready to immediately step into the No. 3 cornerback role behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

“Could we have taken a corner in the first round? We probably could have. In the second round? We probably could have,” Newsome said. “But at the point when we were picking, it wasn’t the best player. But we do feel good. Getting Jimmy back healthy, Lardarius having a year to train, and then some of the young guys to have a chance to play being in the system for a second year [will help].”

Newsome’s correct about the Ravens being ravaged by injuries with five cornerbacks finishing the season on injured reserve. While Rashaan Melvin wouldn’t have been filling a starting role late last season under normal circumstances, the former Tampa Bay practice-squad member played well enough to garner a look as the potential third cornerback. He, Walker, Anthony Levine, and the oft-injured Asa Jackson currently stand as the candidates for the No. 3 job, but the Ravens will also be depending on first-year cornerbacks coach Matt Weiss and first-year defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt — who served as Steve Spagnuolo’s assistant secondary coach a year ago — to oversee their development.

Finding a No. 3 cornerback is not an impossible task, but that only comes with the assumption that Smith is back to form after a season-ending Lisfranc injury and Webb can build on the improvement shown late in 2014 after a back injury cost him all of training camp and the first month of the regular season. The two have missed 33 regular-season games due to injuries in their respective careers and have only played full 16-game seasons three times between them.

It’s also worth noting that the Ravens ranked just 24th in pass defense before Smith went down for the season in Week 8, proof that all wasn’t well in the secondary before defensive coordinator Dean Pees lost his top cornerback.

With the draft complete, it’s worth noting that some teams will part ways with veteran cornerbacks in the coming days and weeks like the Patriots did with Alfonzo Dennard on Tuesday. Of course, none of those names can be regarded as a sure bet, but the Ravens could find an appealing candidate or two to throw into the current No. 3 and No. 4 mix, especially with more than $10 million in current salary cap space.

“We’re not done putting this team together right now,” Newsome said at the draft’s conclusion. “It’s still maybe four months before we have to play Denver [in the season opener]. We’re still going to be mining for players to make our roster to make us better.”

Despite everything accomplished with their nine selections this past weekend, cornerback remains a top position to try to improve between now and the start of the season.

Pondering Pitta’s future

Admittedly, I’ve been surprised by some of the reaction to the Ravens drafting two tight ends and the “new-found” conclusions many have reached about the future of veteran Dennis Pitta.

All offseason, Baltimore has expressed hope that the 2010 fourth-round pick would be able to play again after suffering two devastating right hip injuries in a 14-month span. But, like everyone else, the organization saw the manner in which Pitta innocuously caught a short pass and tried to turn upfield before crumpling to the ground without even being touched in Cleveland last September.

Knowing Pitta’s character and commitment to the game, I would never count out his potential return to the field. But I’m also rooting for a 29-year-old man to do what’s best for him and his family, whether that means trying to play football again or calling it a career with what should be plenty of financial security.

If Pitta returns, having too many tight ends is a great problem to have, but the Ravens simply can’t count on any production from him in 2015 or beyond. Even if he does resume playing, it will be difficult for the Ravens — or anyone else — to shake the fear of what happened to Pitta in Cleveland from happening again.

Return game

Another position of interest that appeared to go unaddressed in this year’s draft was return specialist as the Ravens must replace veteran Jacoby Jones.

Many have pointed to wide receiver Michael Campanaro as the top candidate to return punts, but it will be worth keeping an eye on rookie free agent DeAndre Carter from Sacramento State. Carter is only 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, but he was projected by some to be a late-round pick with potential to be a solid return man at the next level.

The Ravens have a history of finding rookie free agent returners from B.J. Sams and Cory Ross to Deonte Thompson, so an opportunity could be there for Carter despite a very crowded group of young wide receivers.

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Webb reportedly restructures deal with Ravens

Posted on 17 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A week after the Ravens traded one of the best players in franchise history because of a negotiating impasse, veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb is reportedly staying put.

According to CBS Sports, the sides agreed to renegotiate what remains of a six-year, $50 million contract signed in 2012. Originally scheduled to make $8 million in base salary in 2015, Webb will instead receive $6 million, which would appear to lower his cap figure from $12 million to $10 million for the coming season if no other maneuvering was done.

Armed with less than $8 million in cap space before the signing of veteran safety Kendrick Lewis to a three-year deal, the Ravens knew they would need to clear more cap room to make further additions this offseason. Webb can now make roughly $18 million over the final three years of his deal if playing-time incentives are reached, according to The Sun. This would indicate Webb’s scheduled base salaries of $8 million in 2016 and $8.5 million in 2017 were also reduced.

The restructuring appears to be a reasonable compromise after the sides had been negotiating for weeks. Coming off a disappointing 2014 campaign even by his own admission, Webb will still receive a $6 million base salary, which would currently be the 13th-highest in the NFL for 2015. However, a look at the bloated contracts a number of cornerbacks have received in free agency indicated there would have been a good market for Webb despite his underwhelming play.

Had the Ravens cut Webb, they would have received only $2 million in cap savings, which is what they’ll pick up with the adjusted contract while still retaining the 29-year-old defensive back’s services. A release with a post-June 1 designation would have saved the Ravens $8 million in space, but those resources would not have been available until long after most free agents of any substance had already found homes.

General manager Ozzie Newsome traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions last week after the sides failed to agree to a contract extension to reduce a $16 million cap hit for the 2015 season.

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Suggs restructure puts band-aid on Ravens’ cap woes

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Needing to be under the 2015 salary cap by 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Ravens found a temporary band-aid by restructuring the contract of veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs.

According to The Sun, Baltimore has converted $3 million of Suggs’ scheduled $4 million base salary for 2015 into a bonus, which will create an additional $2.25 million in cap space for this season. The move also adds an extra $750,000 to Suggs’ cap figures for 2016, 2017, and 2018, which isn’t substantial but is still something the Ravens try to avoid doing.

Last offseason, Suggs signed a four-year extension that gives the six-time Pro Bowl selection an excellent chance to finish his career in Baltimore.

The move was necessary to get the Ravens below the salary cap after they had tendered their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents on Monday. However, it still leaves them with work to do if they want to re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents or explore other players available on the open market.

General manager Ozzie Newsome would still like to get something done with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to provide relief from his current $16 million cap figure in the final year of his contract. However, the NFL Network reported Tuesday morning that the “status quo” is likely remain between the Ravens and Ngata, which would do the organization no favors in trying to add other players to the current roster this offseason.

The restructuring of Suggs’ deal is a sign that the Ravens are trying to buy more time to work something out with Ngata, but it’s difficult to imagine this offseason being a productive one without movement on the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s contract.

The Ravens are also trying to restructure the contract of veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb, who currently carries a $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season.

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Series of unfortunate events led to Ravens’ 2015 cap woes

Posted on 09 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to officially begin on Tuesday, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar position of lacking salary-cap space.

It’s the cost of doing business when you draft well and strive to keep as many of your own young players as you can. That’s the proven method for sustained success compared to those teams who draft poorly and subsequently throw around money on the volatile free-agent market to try to build a winning team.

Of course, the reminder must be delivered to those Ravens fans who panic every March after seeing some players depart and are too impatient to wait for general manager Ozzie Newsome to act. The more levelheaded fans recognize this yearly process and remind anyone who will listen of the old mantra, “In Ozzie we trust.”

But this offseason is unique as the Ravens are dealing with the fallout from a series of unfortunate events that have wreaked havoc on their salary cap, leaving them with just $4.639 million in space before tendering their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Much attention has fallen on the future of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who carries a $16 million cap figure for the 2015 season, but three other events have left Newsome and the Ravens in even worse shape than they might have been under normal circumstances.

The most obvious is the lingering fallout from the Ray Rice saga as the Ravens are still carrying $9.5 million in dead money on their 2015 cap after cutting the running back last Sept. 8. Even though the 28-year-old free agent hasn’t even been on the roster for over six months, his ghost carries the fourth-highest cap figure on the team for the coming season.

Some argued at the time of his signing in 2012 that the Ravens shouldn’t commit to a long-term contract with Rice, but no one could have foreseen the circumstances that led to the termination of his contract.

The second example remains more open-ended, but tight end Dennis Pitta’s second hip injury in 14 months last September has not only left his career in jeopardy but has created another gaping hole of dead resources. Though nothing is official in terms of his playing status, Pitta’s $4 million base salary is guaranteed for 2015 and it would be more costly to cut him than to keep him this year, meaning his $6.2 million cap figure will stay on the books despite the strong possibility that he sits out the season.

It’s fair to question whether the Ravens should have been more conservative before committing to Pitta last offseason — they could have used the franchise or transition tag to make sure his surgically-repaired hip was sound after the first injury — but they had received assurances from doctors that the 29-year-old had no greater risk to injure his hip again.

Those two players alone are responsible for $15.7 million in cap space with Rice no longer on the roster and Pitta potentially unable to play again. It’s akin to having another Ngata weighing on the cap without the benefit of having either player on the field.

A third event more open for debate than the others was the second anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered by cornerback Lardarius Webb only six months after he signed a six-year, $50 million contract in 2012. Prior to his second ACL injury in less than three years, Webb was emerging as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, receiving the fourth-highest grade of all players at his position from Pro Football Focus in 2011.

Few would argue that Webb has ever been the same since then and injuries are surely part of the game, but it was also terrible luck when he had just become one of the highest paid players on the roster. If he had continued on his pre-injury track, the Ravens would likely be able to live with his $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season and their concerns at the corner position would be less severe. Instead, they’re facing the possibility of cutting him and further depleting a position that was Baltimore’s Achilles heel in 2014.

No team — good or bad — is immune to making mistakes as there will always be signings and draft picks that don’t work out, but the three events outlined above have contributed to the Ravens’ worst predicament in several years despite the NFL’s salary cap increasing by $20 million over the last two offseasons.

This isn’t meant as an excuse for Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens as they’ll find a way to make additions to the roster, but it’s a simple reality to keep in mind as you brace for the start of free agency and what figures to be a difficult series of departures.

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Ravens’ cap issues linger as free-agent negotiating window opens

Posted on 07 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency only days away, the Ravens still have work to do to improve a tight salary-cap situation that threatens to hinder their ability to not only re-sign their own free agents but to add outside talent to the roster.

On Saturday, teams were allowed to enter contract negotiations with the certified agents of other NFL teams’ unrestricted free agents, but they are not allowed to complete a deal until 4 p.m. Tuesday when free agency officially begins. Of course, the reality is that teams and agents have been talking through back channels for weeks — February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis has long been considered a tampering haven — and a number of deals will be all but official before Tuesday afternoon.

The Ravens are currently just $4.639 million under the salary cap, resources that will be exhausted when they tender their list of restricted and exclusive-rights free agents by Tuesday’s deadline.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and cornerback Lardarius Webb remain the two biggest names who will impact the salary cap as the Ravens continue to try to rework their existing deals. Carrying a $16 million cap figure in the final season of his five-year, $61 million contract, Ngata is expected to be released if the Ravens cannot work out an extension by Tuesday and there have been no indications that a deal is close to happening. Cutting the five-time Pro Bowl selection would save $8.5 million in savings while leaving $7.5 million in dead money on the 2015 salary cap.

Webb’s situation is more complex as he carries a $12 million cap figure and the Ravens would like him to accept a cut from the $8 million base salary he’s owed for 2015. Cutting the 29-year-old would result in only $2 million in savings — in addition to further weakening the cornerback position — unless the Ravens designate him a post-June 1 release, which would mean his cap figure would remain on the books until long after most free-agent activity is already over.

Of course, the Ravens could make other cap-saving releases after parting ways with veterans Jacoby Jones and Chris Canty in the last two weeks. Other potential casualties include center Gino Gradkowski, linebacker Albert McClellan, and punter Sam Koch.

But the entire offseason remains in a holding pattern until resolutions are found with both Ngata and Webb.

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Will Webb accept pay cut to remain with Ravens?

Posted on 04 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With veteran Lardarius Webb carrying the sixth-highest salary cap figure among NFL cornerbacks, it’s hardly surprising that the Ravens are asking him to take a pay cut.

Whether he accepts is the question as the NFL Network reported Tuesday that Baltimore has officially asked the 29-year-old defensive back to take less than his $8 million base salary for the 2015 season. Webb carries a $12 million cap figure, which is just behind the likes of Dallas’ Brandon Carr ($12.717 million) and Seattle’s Richard Sherman ($12.2 million) for this coming season. Few would say that Webb belongs in that category of players as injuries have stunted a player who once played at a Pro Bowl level before suffering the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his NFL career during the 2012 season.

A back injury cost Webb all of last year’s training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season before he struggled to regain his pre-injury form the rest of the way, finishing 52nd among cornerbacks who took at least half of his team’s snaps in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. The 2009 third-round pick will be 30 in October and signed a six-year, $50 million contract prior to the 2012 season.

It remains unclear how much less the Ravens are asking Webb to take, but the question for him is whether he thinks another team would give him more than the revised salary general manager Ozzie Newsome is offering. It was roughly six months ago that the Ravens restructured Webb’s contract for the 2014 season, flipping $4 million of his $7.5 million base salary into a bonus and reducing his cap figure. Of course, that adjustment came with the consequence of adding $1 million to his cap figure in each of the next three seasons.

The request of a pay cut is almost always accompanied by the consequence that a player will be released if he doesn’t accept it — no player would ever accept one if that weren’t the case — but the Ravens would save only $2 million in cap space unless they declare Webb a post-June 1 release. Such a maneuver would clear $8 million in cap space, but that relief wouldn’t come until after June 1 when the bulk of free-agent activity has already concluded.

If Newsome believes he can find another comparable veteran — Cary Williams was released on Tuesday — at the same salary or for less than what they’re currently offering Webb, the decision to release him becomes much easier. But they also know cornerback is a major priority and they will already be looking to select one in the early rounds of this year’s draft.

The Ravens can certainly use the cap savings, but they would come with more uncertainty in the secondary if Webb were to be sent packing after six years in Baltimore.

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Cary Williams could be solid veteran option for Ravens

Posted on 03 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Two years after signing a three-year, $17 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was released on Tuesday, leading to immediate speculation of a potential reunion in Baltimore.

The Ravens’ issues at cornerback last season were no secret and Williams left the organization with no ill feelings two offseasons ago, making it plausible that the sides could reconcile at the right price. Williams, 30, is coming off a season in which he struggled for the Eagles’ 31st-ranked passing game, but the Ravens could view him as a nice veteran insurance policy while still aiming to add a cornerback for the future in the first few rounds of this year’s draft.

Williams has started all 16 games in each of his last four seasons and transformed himself from a former practice-squad member and special-teams player to a starting cornerback for the Super Bowl XLVII champions. The Ravens offered Williams a three-year, $15 million contract prior to his final year in Baltimore, but the Washburn College product elected to play out the 2012 season before accepting a better offer from the Eagles a little over a month after the Super Bowl.

Though the Ravens would ideally view Williams as a No. 3 cornerback, the status of veteran Lardarius Webb could change that as Baltimore tries to restructure his contract currently slated to carry a $12 million cap figure during the 2015 season. If general manager Ozzie Newsome were to part ways with Webb to clear cap space, a veteran like Williams could become even more attractive as the Ravens would want to avoid entering the draft needing a cornerback to start immediately.

Opinionated and sometimes brash on the field, Williams butted heads with Chip Kelly over how much the Eagles head coach was making players work during practices last fall, but the Ravens’ familiarity with the veteran defensive back might give them an advantage over other potential suitors who might be scared off by his attitude.

Ultimately, such a reunion would come down to money more than anything else as the Eagles cut Williams before he was scheduled to make $6.5 million in base salary this coming season. He would need to take substantially less in any potential return to the place where he established himself as an NFL-caliber cornerback.

Given the Ravens’ need at the position, turning to a durable and known commodity who’s already familiar with Dean Pees’ system would appear to be a solid short-term option while they could look to the draft to find a cornerback of the future.

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2015 salary cap cuts

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl XLIX now in the books and the 2014 season officially over, the Ravens are continuing to make plans for 2015 as they evaluate a tight salary cap and try to improve from a 10-6 campaign that resulted in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The NFL has yet to set the 2015 salary cap, which is projected to increase from $133 million this past season to somewhere between $138 million and $142 million for the upcoming year. That’s good news for the Ravens as they currently own a commitment of over $137 million for players currently under contract, per Spotrac.com.

With a slew of key free agents to address as well as visions of trying to improve other areas of the roster, general manager Ozzie Newsome will face some difficult decisions pertaining to several veterans on the roster. That begins and ends with five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, who is entering the final season of a five-year, $61 million deal signed in 2011. Easily one of the best players in franchise history, the 31-year-old defensive tackle finds himself in a similar position to the one Terrell Suggs was in last year before he signed a contract extension to lower his 2014 cap figure.

A name not included on the list of potential cap casualties below is tight end Dennis Pitta, whose $4 million base salary for 2015 is guaranteed. It remains unclear whether Pitta will play football again after suffering two serious hip injuries in two years, but cutting him this offseason would increase his cap figure for 2015.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player are offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. DE Chris Canty ($2.66 million)
Skinny: The 32-year-old may take this decision out of the Ravens’ hands as he acknowledged at the end of the season that he’s contemplating retirement. Injuries limited his production in 2014, and the Ravens will likely push to re-sign the underrated Lawrence Guy while looking toward young defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to be factors at Canty’s 5-technique defensive end spot. With so many other pressing needs elsewhere and a few younger options at this position, Canty returning would be more of a luxury than a necessity for next season, making it likely that he’s played his final game with Baltimore.

2. WR Jacoby Jones ($750,000)
Skinny: On the surface, the minimal savings gained by cutting the return specialist now wouldn’t appear worth it, but you have to wonder where Jones fits after falling behind the likes of Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken on the depth chart and not appearing as explosive in the return game in 2014. A possible strategy would be to designate Jones as a post-June 1 cut, which would create $2.5 million in savings for the summer and autumn when the Ravens need a “rainy day” fund to account for injuries. The only problem with that strategy is his scheduled 2015 cap number of $3.375 million staying on the books during the first few months of free agency, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s a place for Jones moving forward.

3. LB Albert McClellan ($1 million)
Skinny: A core member of Jerry Rosburgh’s special teams units over the last few years, McClellan has been a reliable player, but other young inside linebackers such as Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are cheaper and should be ready to handle more responsibility. Of course, we’re not talking about a great deal of savings here, but veteran special-teams players are typically among the first to go when teams are dealing with cap pains.

4. P Sam Koch ($2.5 million)
Skinny: Many assumed Koch would be a cap casualty last year with his high price tag for a punter, but the Ravens value his ability a great deal and regard him as one of the best in the NFL. That said, Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent and will be looking for a long-term contract over the next 12 months. If Koch is willing to sign a team-friendly extension to lower his cap number, the Ravens would be more than happy to keep him around, but they probably can’t afford to pay their kicker and punter in the top 10 at their respective positions. Entering the final year of his contract, Koch is more likely to be a casualty this year than he was last offseason.

5. DT Haloti Ngata ($8.5 million)
Skinny: The only certainty is that the longtime Raven won’t be playing for his scheduled $16 million cap figure. Whether that means he signs an extension like Suggs or is cut remains to be seen. Ngata’s 2014 season was his best in a few years, but his four-game suspension for Adderall use allowed the Ravens to take an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who played very well in the 31-year-old’s absence. The sides talked about an extension last season with little progress, so it will be interesting to see how motivated Ngata is to make amends for his suspension and finish his career in Baltimore. The Ravens must be smart as it’s typically unwise to throw money at defensive linemen on the wrong side of 30.

6. CB Lardarius Webb ($2 million)
Skinny: It was a disappointing year for the 29-year-old after he missed all of training camp and three of the first four games of the season with a back injury. Since suffering the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career in 2012, Webb has looked like nothing better than average, which is problematic when he’s carrying a $12 million cap figure for 2015. However, cutting him this winter would only save $2 million and create less depth at a position where the Ravens are already looking to improve. Newsome may ask Webb to take a pay cut, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens depleting their depth at cornerback further — even if he’s no more than average at this pointby cutting him outright for minimal savings.

 

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In end, Ravens couldn’t overcome biggest weakness

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Reflecting on Saturday’s season-ending 35-31 loss to New England, the Ravens know there were other reasons why they didn’t advance to the AFC Championship.

A last-minute interception by quarterback Joe Flacco tarnished what had been a banner day for him and a Ravens offense that produced at least 30 points for the second straight week. The decision to take the deep shot, the effort by wide receiver Torrey Smith to break it up, and the throw itself all came under scrutiny, but the offense had been more than good enough to win for the first 58 minutes of the game.

The vaunted pass rush that ranked second in the NFL with 49 sacks during the regular season managed to sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady only twice with neither coming in the second half as the Ravens squandered a 14-point lead — their second of the night — in the third quarter. Baltimore had accumulated four or more sacks in each of its last eight wins and was 0-5 over that same stretch when failing to reach that plateau.

But it was the Ravens’ greatest weakness that ultimately led to their demise as the secondary was exposed and exploited by Brady and New England’s passing game. In giving up 408 passing yards and four touchdown passes — one thrown by Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman — the Ravens cannnot be fooled by the statistical improvement in the final month of the season that came against opposing passing games led by Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Connor Shaw. Baltimore ranked 31st in pass defense entering the final month of the regular season before rallying to finish 23rd.

Fixing the secondary will be a major undertaking for general manager Ozzie Newsome, who misread the Ravens’ depth at cornerback last offseason long before a rash of injuries decimated the position. There are no easy solutions as every notable member of the unit faces a significant question this offseason and secondary coach Steve Spanguolo could draw interest as a potential defensive coordinator elsewhere.

Top cornerback Jimmy Smith will be returning from a Lisfranc injury and is scheduled to make $6.898 million in the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL before the foot ailment cut his season short in October, Smith is someone the Ravens would like to keep for the long run, but it’s difficult to ignore the reality that he’s missed 17 games in four seasons when considering the significant money it will likely require to keep him.

Veteran Lardarius Webb made a team-high 11 starts at cornerback, but he carries a $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season. After once appearing on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player, Webb will be entering his seventh season and played like no more than average at best after returning from a back injury that cost him all of training camp and three games at the start of the season. Two surgically-repaired knees on top of the back ailment make you wonder if his 5-foot-10, 182-pound body is failing him at this stage of his career.

Cutting Webb would only save $2 million in cap space — he has three years remaining on a six-year, $50 million contract signed in 2012 — and the Ravens would need to replace him in the starting defense, but it’s difficult to justify his salary for such lackluster play for much of the 2014 campaign.

Safety Will Hill was a rare bright spot in the secondary after starting the final eight games upon coming off a six-game suspension, but can the Ravens trust him to stay out of trouble and remain committed to the game? The Ravens wouldn’t figure to have difficulty keeping the restricted free agent, but he’ll need to prove Baltimore right in giving him a second chance before a long-term commitment is even considered.

The in-house options look grim beyond that.

Even if it’s too soon to declare Matt Elam a complete bust, there’s no sugarcoating how disappointing the 2013 first-round pick has been through his first two seasons. In fairness, Elam was forced to play out of position again for much of the year, but he also led the Ravens in missed tackles, which is a problem considering his tackling was viewed as a strength of his coming out of the University of Florida.

Third-round safety Terrence Brooks offered a few glimpses of potential amidst typical struggles of a rookie, but a knee injury cut his season short and the Ravens couldn’t have seen enough to feel comfortable in moving forward with him as a guaranteed starter.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was a nice story in becoming a starter late in the year after being signed off the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad in early November, but the Patriots completed 15 of 19 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns, and a 150.9 passer rating against him in coverage. He proved himself enough to be a solid option for depth, but no more than that at this point.

Injuries limited Asa Jackson to just seven games and his pass coverage wasn’t overly impressive when he played.

Safeties Darian Stewart and Jeromy Miles and cornerback Danny Gorrer are unrestricted free agents, and cornerback Anthony Levine is a restricted free agent.

The draft appears to be the most logical outlet to seek improvement for 2015 and beyond, but the Ravens won’t pick until 26th overall and rookie cornerbacks don’t often provide an immediate impact in significant roles. Baltimore can look no farther than Smith’s selection in 2011 as evidence with the 6-foot-2 University of Colorado product disappointing in his first two years before establishing himself as a starter in 2013.

The Ravens don’t need a top 10 secondary with the strength of their front seven, but it was apparent that even an average secondary might have carried them to at least an AFC Championship appearance.

It will be up to Newsome to make the necessary improvement for 2015.

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